Category Archives: Video Games

Game of the Month: Destiny

A couple of month ago I noticed that a lot my PlayStation network contacts were playing the beta of a game called Destiny. The last game whose demo sparked that much interest was Mass Effect 3. So naturally I was curious and looked the game up online: a combination of a science fiction themed MMORPG and a first person shooter. Based on that and favourable reviews of the beta I decided to pre-order the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

Destiny is indeed a first person shooter and a well made one at that. Fast and nice looking graphics, big maps, lots of different enemies and an arsenal of well balanced weapons to fight them. Besides story missions that can be played alone or cooperatively Destiny also features various player vs. player modes which are in design similar to video games like Unreal Tournament. Destiny also contains some role playing elements: the player can choose between three different classes for the character which match the scheme found in many role playing games: Titan (Soldier), Hunter (Rogue) and Warlock (Mage). Each of the classes features three grenade powers, a powerful melee attack, a special jump and a Super. This super power is what distinguishes the classes from each other. Hunters e.g. get a Golden Gun which fires three powerful shots while Warlocks can trigger a powerful explosion by casting Nova Bomb. If a character reaches level 15 its second subclass is unlocked. This subclass provides a different set of powers which mostly notably includes a different Super. The player can switch between the two subclasses anytime but needs to level them up separately.

Destiny provides a very satisfying first person shooter experience. The well tuned combat system, the elaborate map design and the smoothly working multiplayer mode all contribute to that. It is particular fun when you take on one of the challenging Strike missions with your friends. As the game doesn’t feature any get out of jail free cards (like e.g. Mass Effect 3 multiplayer’s Medigels or Cobra Missiles) team work and coordination are very important. You have to decide quickly whether you want to risk exposing yourself by reviving your team mate or whether you wait 30 seconds for them to re-spawn. The role playing part however is disappointing. There isn’t much story, only hints, very little dialog and no way for the player to influence the plot. And while the concept of the Super is interesting its excessive cool down times prevents the player from using it frequently. I end up using it even less often than I could because I want to keep it charged in case a really challenging fight is around the next corner. There are also very little customisation options for your equipment. Most armours look very much alike and you need an extra item to apply one of the predefined colour schemes. Acquiring good equipment is even more important than in other games because it is the only way to level up past level 20. But as so often in video games you either need a lot of luck or spend hours and hours of grinding to get the desired equipment.

I definitely enjoy playing Destiny despite the underdeveloped RPG aspect. It reminds of Borderlands 2 in a good way. And to be fair Bungie, the company who created Destiny, called the game a shared world shooter which is a reasonable description. They never promised to deliver the MMORPG that players were hoping for. Based on that I’m however wondering whether the game will really have a life time of 10 years as Bungie promise. It will all depend on future expansions to this game world.

Game of the Month: The Last Of Us

I had it all planned out: when BioWare releases Dragon Age: Inquisition in October I would buy a PlayStation 4 (PS4), Sony’s new video game console, and enjoy playing this game on the new hardware in brilliant graphics. But my good old PlayStation 3 needed a proper farewell of course. I decided that Naughty Dog’s highly acclaimed The Last Of Us would be the perfect game for the occasion. It was supposed to be the last title I play on my good old console, beside the occasional match of Mass Effect 3 multiplayer of course. But no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

The first change of plan was due to a very pleasant surprise: my beloved wife gave me a PS4 as a birthday present back in April. But the next surprise wasn’t all that pleasant: BioWare postponed the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition until November. Fortunately Sony came to the rescue by releasing a remastered version of The Last Of Us for the PS4 . I therefore revised my plan and chose this game for the induction of my shiny new console.

On a quick glance The Last Of Us is a third person shooter. In a post pandemic world the player has to fight zombies and find supplies to survive. What sets this game apart is the story telling. It begins with an interactive prologue during which the player witnesses the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and the downfall of civilisation. It also introduces Joel, the main protagonist, and shows him during some of his defining moments. The main story begins 20 years later when Joel meets Ellie. By random chance Joel ends up in the role of Ellie’s protector and agrees unwillingly to bring her to a remote research station because she might be the key to the survival of the human race. But during the long and dangerous journey Joel and Ellie discover that there are worse things than zombies.

I’m a huge fan of video games which combine good gameplay with a strong narrative. And The Last Of Us delivers on both accounts. Because ammunition is scarce and the zombies outnumber Joel and Ellie you have to plan your fights very carefully. Stealth and good tactics always beat blazing guns. Often the best of course of action is to avoid open combat all together. In between the action sequences frequent cut scenes tell the multifaceted story. The player encounters a lot of characters which are all well written, realistically acted (via motion capturing) and excellently voiced. The game manages to stay clear of the stereotypes frequently used in video games and instead portrays all protagonist as real human beings with flaws and virtues. Playing The Last Of Us feels like being part of an interactive story. You are alway eager to find out what happens next. Good visual and sound effects complete a truly marvellous video game experience.

I greatly enjoyed playing The Last Of Us. While it definitely doesn’t push the PS4 to its limits (the PS3 heritage is still recognisable) it provides an exciting adventure. I grew fond of the characters during the course of the game and was a bit sad when it ended. I’m not sure whether I want a sequel. Probably not because The Last Of Us is just perfect the way it is and a sequel could ruin it.

The Best Part of the Mass Effect Trilogy

After reading a very good article about what Mass Effect 4 should be I remembered that I wanted to write a review about my favourite part of BioWare‘s Mass Effect Trilogy. I already had a draft posting on this topic which, despite containing over 1,600 words, wasn’t even half finished. So let me try again, this time a bit more focused. Be aware that this post contains massive spoilers regarding the story of all three games.

Mass Effect, the first game, has the advantage that the story and the characters are still new and fresh. And it plays that card well. What begins as a tedious exercise in galactic politics, turns into a large scale exploration and finally ends in a desperate fight for the survival of the galatic civilisation. Mass Effect also introduces a lot of iconic characters like Garrus, Liara or Tali. The exciting story is what really sets this game apart, particularly the awesome space battle at the end of the game. It reminds me of the final showdown in Return of the Jedi which happens to be one of my favourite movies.

But Mass Effect also has a bunch of weaknesses. The combat system is somehow unwieldy. Your characters are too slow for free movement in combat and taking cover doesn’t work very well. At the beginning combat is also very difficult, particularly with a power (instead of weapon) focused class. But once you level up your powers and get good equipment it becomes almost too easy. The game also applies classic role play game mechanics a bit uninspired. There are e.g. a large number of weapons available but they only vary in stats like damage per shot or fire rate. And at some point in the game you  inevitably have the maximum possible amount of money and the best possible equipment (bought in a shop) and looting becomes futile. Galactic exploration can also be a bit dull at times as most planets lack detail and feature only standard building layouts.

The second part, Mass Effect 2, improves a lot on the first part. Combat in particular works much better. While your characters are still a bit slow the cover mechanics work this time. You can now win every fight with a mixture of the right tactics and good aiming. The role play mechanics have been modernised. While they are admittedly a bit too simplistic (e.g. no weapon customisation) they feel much less tedious compared to the first part. You find less loot but it is usually much more exciting. A new weapon will look and feel completely different from the weapons that you already have. And the best weapon is not determined by numbers but by what works well for you. Galactic exploring is also much more fun because each mini mission you find is different. No more looking for buildings on a square standard planet map like in the first part.

The story telling is still on a very high level. While the main plot is more straightforward and predictable there are a lot of interesting side missions. Most squad members have a recruitment and loyalty mission which gives an in-depth introduction into each of these characters. The game also features the best adversary of the whole trilogy: Harbinger. You never face it directly, but it taunts you frequently and attacks you relentlessly by possessing its pawns.

But let’s not forget about the Suicide Mission, the grand finale of the game. It starts with a mind blowing space battle and ends in three exiting and unique combat sequences. You get a decent boss battle and there is an epic cutscene after winning the game. During the whole mission Commander Shepard’s decisions make a huge difference. If you didn’t prepare well you will take losses before the real fight even starts. And if you pick the wrong squad mate for an assignment you will get somebody killed. As a result it feels really good if you did your job well and get your whole crew out alive.

The finale game of the trilogy, Mass Effect 3, tries to be bigger and better but only partly succeeds. The combat system is better than ever. Characters can move quickly and dodge which finally allows for free movement in battle. And new enemies, which hunt you down and try to kill you in close combat, make quick movement necessary for survival. But there are also enemies with a lot of fire power which you cannot fight in the open. You have to adapt to the situation quickly to prevail.

BioWare also found a good balance for the role playing elements. Weapons (of which there is a huge variety now) can be modified to increase their strength or improve their handling. Powers have multiple evolutions that you can choose from and can be combined in a lot of ways to create explosions or other effects to increase their effectiveness. Picking the right build, squad members and equipment becomes more important than ever to maximise the combat strength of your party.

The main problem of the third part is the story. While there are epic sub plots, like dealing with the Genophage or ending the conflict between the Quarian and the Geth, the main story leaves a lot to be desired. BioWare had to invent a magic dooms day weapon called the Crucible to give Commander Shepard a fighting chance against the Reapers. This would probably have been more convincing if the Crucible’s existence had been hinted at in the first two parts. But it seems that the story writers didn’t plan that far ahead. The other problem is that the main story is very depressing. It is full of ominous hints that Shepard will die … all the time … and not particularly subtle. And Shepard doesn’t even get a good death. Instead of going down with guns blazing she is already half dead by the time she has to sacrifice herself because an annoying brat says so. The fact that the game play of the final mission is rather dull and none of your previous decisions really matter almost becomes a minor detail at this point.

So which is the best part? You can probably make out my favourite based on the above review.